Exclusive: Japan tax agency, Hong Kong join FBI in reviewing Universal casino payments

Thu Mar 19, 2015 6:26pm EDT
 
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By Nathan Layne and Kevin Krolicki

TOKYO/BILOXI, Mississippi (Reuters) - Japan’s tax authorities have begun a review of how slot machine maker and casino developer Universal Entertainment (6425.T: Quote) accounted for $40 million in payments made in 2010 to an associate of the Philippines' top gambling regulator at that time, people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Separately, the payments are also a focus of a previously undisclosed criminal investigation by Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, sources said. The ICAC has become involved because the transfers under review passed through bank accounts based in Hong Kong, those people said.

On Wednesday, Universal said in a statement that its U.S.-based subsidiary, Aruze USA, had received a subpoena from a grand jury in the United States that it believed was related to “suspicion” of bribery related to the payments. The company did not say when that subpoena had been received or where that federal grand jury was seated.

Universal said it believed it would not face charges in the United States “as long as a fair and proper investigation is conducted.” The statement by Universal was the first time the company had acknowledged a subpoena or confirmed the existence of a grand jury as part of the federal investigation.

The FBI has been investigating whether payments that originated in a bank account held by Aruze USA that were made in 2010 to Rodolfo Soriano, an associate of the then-head of the Philippine gaming regulator, constituted a violation of U.S. anti-bribery laws, according to people with knowledge of the probe. At the time of the payments, Universal was seeking tax and other concessions related to a casino it is building on Manila Bay.

The National Bureau of Investigation in the Philippines investigated the case as potential bribery but said it was suspending that probe because it did not have access to witnesses in Japan. Soriano did not respond to a request for comment.

Lewis Tam, a spokesman for Hong Kong’s ICAC, said the agency “would not comment on individual cases.” The FBI declined to comment. A spokesman for Japan’s National Tax Agency said it was policy to not comment on specific cases.

Universal had no immediate comment beyond its statement.   Continued...

 
The logo of the Universal Entertainment Corp. is seen at the company's headquarters in Tokyo February 14, 2013.  REUTERS/Yuya Shino